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'It could be anyone's child'

Born from a string of suicides, group ready to launch '1,000 Conversations about Mental Health in Lake Orion'

July 28, 2010 - Something snapped. It was the only explanation that made any sense to Karen and Hugh Hudson after the suicide of their son Michael in 2009.

Michael had been depressed, yes, and uncertain about the path to his future.

Hundreds of pictures taken over Michael Hudson’s 19 years show him smiling and happy. That smile, say his parents, Karen and Hugh Hudson, is one of the things they miss most. Photo by Laura Colvin (click for larger version)
But he also had a close relationship with both his parents, who noticed when he began to struggle and sought help for the younger of their two boys.

With therapy and medication, Michael, a 2008 Lake Orion High School grad, started to feel better, and began talking about the future again. He wanted to study acting.

Then, out of nowhere, Michael Hudson's future was gone.

It was April 1, 2009. The details remain ferociously painful for Michael's parents: A crashing noise in the night. Panic. A swarm of EMS over the Hudson's Orion Township home. Karen's call to Hugh - hundreds of miles away on business, and his desperate wait for a flight to carry him through the wee hours home.

Side by side at Michael's bedside, hope flickered briefly. The machines pumped oxygen in and out of his lungs and forced his heart to beat.

But a brain scan revealed the truth, and the world came crashing down around his parents.

Their youngest boy was dead.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: A free 24-hour hotline for those in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org * * *Suicide Prevention Resource Center: Visit sprc.org * * * Common Ground Crisis Line: Call 800-231-1127 or visit commongroundhelps.org * * * American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: Visit afsp.org
Michael was gone.

On the other side of the world, Ryan Hudson, just two years older than Michael, waited three long days for someone to pluck him from the Iraqi sand, lest he miss his brother's funeral.

• • •

Not quite a year and a half after Michael's death, his parents get through some days better than others. None are easy. Still, they know something has to change.

Because it wasn't just Michael.

"Four suicides in 18 months is enough," said Heather Irish, founder and CEO of The MINDS Program, Inc., who recently helped kick off a grassroots community project dubbed 1,000 Conversations about Mental Health in Lake Orion. "No more."

Irish, who regularly presents suicide prevention workshops for high school students, said the Hudsons approached her after Michael's death. They wanted to do something to help save another child, perhaps, and save another set of parents from the ultimate heartbreak.

After learning four suicides occurred in one community in just 18 months, Irish was on board.

The '1,000 Conversations about Mental Health in Lake Orion' group will meet Thursday, Aug. 5., at Lake Orion High School, 6 p.m. All are welcome. For more information, email Karen Hudson at khhudson@comcast.net or call 248-391-1352.
She, the Hudsons and a few others sat down and came up with a goal: Assemble a group of "Community Partners" and equip them with the resources, knowledge and comfort level to have conversations about mental health.

In other words, promote awareness and education to help de-stigmatize the idea of "mental health" and encourage people of all ages to seek help when they need it.

"We want wellness in this community to include mental health so people can talk about it the same way they would talk about cancer or diabetes," said Yvonne lackmond, who also works with MINDS.

Because it wasn't just four.

Between March 2007 and today, at least seven young people have died by suicide in Lake Orion.

All were Lake Orion High School students, recent grads, or had recently attended the school. Seven.

• • •

Community partners - those who will work in one capacity or another over the next two years to bring '1,000 Conversations' to the community - include Lake Orion Police Chief Jerry Narsh and Orion Township sheriff's substation Commander Lt. Bruce Naile.

Both noted officers often see issues related to mental health.

"I'd like to have someone come out and talk to all the deputies about the group's concept and what they intend to do," said Naile, noting additional training and improved knowledge of mental health issues for officers can only benefit the community and school district.

And that's the whole idea. As part of the project, the group hopes to send speakers into workplaces, churches and other organizations in the community to 'shine a light on mental health.'

And plenty of opportunities for education are shaping up, as well. At a recent 1,000 Conversations meeting, Shawn Force of Common Ground gave a presentation about the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) Program.

Force wrote and was granted $10,000 to conduct two 2-day trainings for the group. The trainings will take place in September.

Lake Orion Community Schools plans to send a number of participants into the training.

"We're not supposed to talk about mental health in our society," said LOHS Principal Sophia Lafayette. "It's so stigmatized."

But she was willing to set a different example.

"There was a time I really suffered with anxiety," Lafayette said. "To a level that it just stopped me cold and affected my ability to function."

But with treatment, she was able to walk away from her anxiety.

In fact, she said, with a different perspective, or perhaps a bit of awareness and education, parents, teachers and others might take a different approach with a student who's perceived, for example, as having a behavior problem, or being lazy.

"Many mental health issues begin to manifest in the teenage years," Lafayette said. "If we can get rid of the stigma so people feel more comfortable going for help, they're less likely to get to the point where they're hurting themselves."

And with only four months at the LOHS helm, Lafayette wants to be proactive. The principal's full support makes it easier for others to climb on board.

"This one of the very best things we've ever gotten involved in," said Michele Novak, a Lake Orion High School counselor whose caseload includes the school's at-risk population. "Working with kids day in and day out, you'd be shocked at how many come forward with suicidal thoughts. There's so much social pressure on kids these days."

But, she said, pressure or not, stigma is a big problem and it's often magnified for young people, making the educational aspect crucial.

"A lot of kids think 'Depression is for losers,'" Novak said. "But kids walked away from the MINDS presentation at the high school in December like 'I am normal. It's OK to talk about this; it's OK to get help.'"

But seven suicides? Most involved with the 1,000 Conversations group say the number is much higher than that found the average community.

Novak said she doesn't know what's happening in other places, but she's certain about one thing.

"I think one is too many," she said. "If we have one, it's a problem and we definitely need awareness. The community needs to take its head out of the clouds and pay attention to what's happening."

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